T he old year ended not in a whimper but a bang:

—North Korean missiles and hydrogen bombs.

—Charlottesville, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, Berkeley, white supremacists.

—The solar eclipse, darkness.

—Texas, Florida, Mexico, life-threatening floods, hurricanes, earthquakes. Suddenly, no right or left wing, no neo-Nazis, no club-wielding supremacists. Division gave way to unity, hatred to compassion.

The mind cannot absorb these constantly shifting scenes — all within ten days. The same white men who one day earlier vilified Mexicans and told them to go home, today risk their lives to save the same Mexicans. Black men volunteer to save the lives of white women; white men give their own clothes to freezing black women. We reel from the headlines. Is the world spinning madly out of control?

In the midst of it all, the moon eclipses the sun and there is darkness at noon, and hundreds of thousands are without home or possession or water or power.

We are not privy to the mysterious ways in which G-d runs His universe. “Ki lo machshevosai machshevoseichem… My thoughts are not your thoughts….” (Yeshayahu 55:8). But at the same time we cannot turn a blind eye to the cataclysmic events engulfing us. There are, after all, no coincidences. Can the dots somehow be connected?

Some observations:

Observation #1: Who are the real “us”? Which ones are the true human beings — the haters and stick-wielders, or those who risk their lives to save others? Or are we simultaneously mind and body, satan and angel, inhuman and human — all within the very same person? Look at the real you, the potential for good and for kindness, as well as for hurt and wounding. Perhaps we are like water: indispensable for life, and at the same time potentially destructive.

Who are we? Man as beast of Korea or Charlottesville or Berkeley, or man as angel helping fellow man of Houston. The daily rush of living, the constant flow of Me and I and Myself, the constant drive to accumulate and acquire and conquer: perhaps they eclipse the real nature of human beings and bring utter darkness and hatred into daily life. But when crisis and danger loom before us, and our fellow man is in need, suddenly our essential goodness and love emerge, and our natural connectedness to one another springs to the surface. One would like to think so. But — the question lingers — must it take catastrophe to being out the hidden godliness within us?

Observation #2: A little humility can’t hurt. We think we have conquered nature, when in fact we have conquered nothing and we understand nothing. The work of Heaven is at times like clockwork: we knew the exact millisecond when the moon would block out the sun; on the other hand, we had no idea of how much floodwater would descend on Houston, or precisely when it would begin or when it would stop. With all our technological knowledge, we know so little, we control so little. It is a much greater challenge to understand ourselves, to control ourselves.

Observation #3: Where is all our bluster and pugnacity in the face of the awesome power of nature, the power of G-d? See how much power there resides in these little droplets of water when they are combined together. See how much power, for creation or destruction, there is in human beings when they — we — band together.

Observation #4: Water, water everywhere. Coleridge’s line comes inevitably to mind. As does a more profound line from Mishlei (27:19), “Kamayim hapanim lapanim, ken lev ha’adam la’adam — As water reflects a face to a face, so does the heart reflect a man to a man.” That is, when a person genuinely cares about another, the other senses it and returns that care. A heart feels a heart. The face you show is the face you get back. So is it with water. It offers a reflection, a true mirror-image of one’s face. Water reveals who we really are, without artifice or makeup. When we looked into the waters of Texas and Florida, there appeared the reflection of our own true selves.

Only G-d and His prophets can connect all these diverse dots: the evil, the eclipse, the destruction, the goodness. We can only hope that speedily and in our time, we will be inundated not by floodwaters but by “the knowledge of the L-rd as the water covers the seabed” (Yeshayahu 11:9).

“Tichleh shanah ukelaloseha — may the old year and its maledictions come to an end (Megillah 31b),” and may the storm waters wash us clear and purify us for a true shanah tovah. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 678)